South Asia

Fighting in Pakistani city of Karachi claims 34 lives

A bus burning in Karachi, 1 August 2011
Image caption Shops and vehicles have been set ablaze

At least 34 people have been killed since Monday in the latest bout of ethnically fuelled violence in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi.

Officials said 11 people were shot dead on Tuesday, while 23 had been killed the previous day.

Targeted killings and clashes claimed more than 200 lives in Karachi in July.

Armed groups supported by Pakistan's main political parties are said to be responsible. Police officials say the groups are controlled by criminals.

But critics say that Pakistan's ruling coalition appears unwilling to bring them to account.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Karachi was enduring "a reign of terror and bloodshed", and that the government would pursue "every possible action to restore peace".

"We have ordered surveillance planes to be brought to Karachi for locating and weeding out the killers," he added.

Image caption Injured people have been pouring into hospitals

"I want to warn those... miscreants that... you have tested the government enough. Neither our people nor our government will tolerate any more of this. There will be strict action... I won't say anything else now. You will see the action yourself."

Provincial home department official Sharfuddin Memon said some bodies had been found riddled with bullets, and others showed signs of torture and were tied up in sacks.

"The criminals want to destabilise the efforts for a permanent peace in the city," he said.

Police said dozens of motorcycles were set alight inside a factory, and that a roadside restaurant and several vehicles were also torched.

In a recent report, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said 490 people had been killed in targeted killings in Karachi during the first half of the year, compared with 748 in 2010.

'Game of death and destruction'

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says that the killings are becoming increasingly indiscriminate.

Our correspondent says that it is not just political activists who are being targeted - shopkeepers, cafe owners, truck drivers and even pedestrians have all been gunned down.

Increasingly, he adds, there is an ethnic dimension to the violence - members of both the Pashtun and Urdu speaking communities have been targeted.

Shops and vehicles have been set ablaze and markets have been shut for several days in the affected areas.

Police officials say activists of the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party (ANP) as well as those of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) - supported by the majority Urdu speaking community in the city - are responsible for much of the violence.

The parties have continued what is increasingly a battle for land and votes - despite being partners in the country's ruling coalition.

Our correspondent says that the government appears helpless to stop the violence, which has wreaked havoc.

Security officials say this is because senior politicians are protecting many of those involved in the killings.

They say the violence will continue until security forces are allowed to arrest these men.

On Monday, the HRCP called for a political solution.

"Karachi is in the grip of a multi-sided wave of insecurity-driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarisation that has greatly undermined its tradition of tolerance and good-neighbourliness," it said.

"While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace."

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